Monday Notes: 4 Things I Liked About Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

A few weeks ago, three friends reached out to me to ask if I’d watched Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey yet. I love Christmas movies and didn’t even know it was a thing, so I was super excited to run home and watch it as soon as I could. Here are four things I liked about the movie.

The cast is Black. Representation in media is important. I came of age in the ‘80s. At the time, the only Christmas film I had that included people who looked me was The Wiz with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, and even that was an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. As I grew older, I enjoyed watching Christmas movies…a lot, but there still weren’t many that included an all-Black cast. As of today, there are about eleven, including some fan favs, like The Preacher’s Wife, The Best Man Holiday, and Almost Christmas. So, I’m quite pleased to add another all-Black Christmas movie to the list.

There is a dysfunctional father-daughter theme. Most of you know I’ve edited and contributed to a book called Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships, so I was super happy to see this movie normalizes that theme, while not blaming the father or the daughter for the dysfunction. There was one part, in particular, with which I could relate. The narrator says, “Jessica didn’t just lose one parent, she lost two.” That’s exactly how I felt when my mother died and I think this film did a great job of demonstrating how dysfunction occurs, without centralizing the issue or overexaggerating events.

Jeronicus Jangle is a Black male professor. I’m a professor who has worked fulltime at three different institutions. I have encountered two Black male professors in each department. I’ve also graduated from three different universities in three different cities and have studied under three Black male professors in the English and education field. There aren’t a lot of professors who fit the demographic. I’m not sure what the statistic is for math and science, which is what Jangle’s character was, but I’m willing to bet it’s low. Kind of like having an all-Black cast, this type of representation matters, too.

The songs are inspiring and uplifting. I’m glad no one told me Jingle Jangle was a musical, because I probably wouldn’t have watched it. I absolutely loathe musicals. There’s something about people breaking out into song and dance in the middle of a script that’s uber annoying. But, as I prepared to write this blog post, I re-watched the movie and really listened to the songs. Each one is very motivational. My favorite is sung by Journey (Madalen Mills), Jangle’s granddaughter; it’s called, “Square Root of Possible.” And the chorus is,

It’s so possible
Watch me rise high above my obstacles
Watch me become who I’m supposed to be
Oh, the possibilities
‘Cause the squarе root of impossible
Is possible
In me
In mе

I mean, really. How much more inspiring can you get than this song???

Have you watched Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey? If so, let me know what you liked about it in the comments. If not, I suggest checking it out on Netflix. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s nice to have a new sunshiny movie to watch.

Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part III)

As a writer, I’d love to end the story with, and I never returned. As a person showing up in authentic spaces, I’ve created for myself, I want to tell the rest of the truth.

Of course, I returned. I had to get my purse.

But I didn’t want to.

That evening, I’d stayed up well past midnight journaling: writing and processing, processing and writing. It had worked when my father died, so perhaps it would work with this situation. I wrote until my eyes were heavy. Part I of this series is the result.

“I don’t belong here,” I told Dwight the next morning.

“Here in Covert or here in your family?”

“Both,” I sighed.

But we had a wedding to attend. I’d decided the only way I could live through the remainder of my time in Michigan was to drink, to remain self-medicated so as to numb any future pain.

Forget pranayama.

Forget exercising.

Forget cognitive behavioral therapy.

I didn’t want to feel the heat rise should my grandmother tell me to speak up or beg me to engage in meaningless conversation.

So, I drank until I ran out of the liquor I’d bought for myself. Then, I started on what was available, which included bottles reserved for college dormitories.

By the time my cousin went from Miss to Mrs., and by the time the last car backed out of the driveway, I…was…drunk.


Dwight, my aunt, her beau, and I stood in the kitchen. I don’t remember what set me off into a Shakespeare-like soliloquy, but I projected all of my thoughts from the time I was sixteen to present day onto my aunt. For over two hours, I expressed my likes, dislikes, wants, and needs from all the adults who raised and didn’t raise me. I cried and purged. I spewed almost every part of my life, from stories I’ve written for this blog, to words encompassed in an unpublished memoir. I left it all there in that kitchen in Covert, Michigan.

I’ve gone back and forth with myself about sharing this, but I’ve decided it’s okay for a few reasons:

Healing isn’t linear. I’m not sure where I first read this, but it resonated. In this culture, we act as if there’s a magic healing wand. I blame popular media, as well as the instant nature of society. Once you do x, y, and z, then you’re “cured” of your trauma and you live happily ever after. That’s simply not the truth. I’ve spent years working on myself. Most days, I’m super good and never think about my past. Other days, I visit my grandmother and feel like an oppressed teenager who’s learned to silence my own voice before someone does it for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not healed. It means I’m a human being, who can be triggered.

People are not perfect. We want the “I Have a Dream” speech MLK, but we don’t want to hear about his alleged adulterous behavior. We want our heroes unblemished, like fictional Marvel caricatures. But Spiderman loses frequently, and Tony Stark seems to be a bit of a jerk. I’ve written The Greatest Thing About My Grannie and meant every word; however, I also see her as a multidimensional human being who isn’t always very nice or emotionally supportive. Likewise, as I noted at the beginning, I’d rather present my own self as a whole person, rather than a perfect being who walks around quoting pithy reflections.

One moment is one moment. Everyone asked how the wedding was, and I wanted to say, it was good, except for the part when…but there was no need to repeatedly mention this situation. Doing so would be a form of unnecessarily beating myself up and carrying energy that needed to dissipate in my grandmother’s kitchen. The best thing to do was to contemplate what happened, apologize to my aunt for the timing and manner in which I expressed myself, and move on. It was one moment.

You can be gifted, helpful, and flawed. When we returned home, I received several pieces of good news that have come and gone. Someone from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)/Mellon Mays Conference contacted me about a paid presentation. One of my essays was published in another anthology. Dr. Dinardo’s institution, St. Clair, and their SRC revised our video on situational anxiety and showed it on IGTV. I know that a lot of people believe you have to have it all together before you can be impactful in the world. I’m here to tell you…you don’t. Your favorite celebrity is proof enough of that.

I began this series with my husband’s question, “Can you imagine living here?”

My answer is clear. Not only can I not imagine living in Covert, Michigan, I also have no intention on returning.  

Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part II)

August 2020, my cousin shared that she would be getting married…at my grandmother’s house. It had been six years since I was there. Six years since the shoveling snow, can’t catch my breath incident. Sending a gift would have been sufficient, especially in a time of COVID, but I felt compelled to attend.

“Are you gonna be alright?” Dwight asked as we traveled toward her home.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I’m a grown-ass woman,” I replied as more of a mantra than a confident truth.

Just for the record, I really thought I was fine. Day one was simple. I ignored how my grandmother wore her mask around her chin, ignored how she talked about how stupid my cousin and her fiancé were for not setting things up sooner or asking for her help, and I ignored how she demanded we speak up louder, instead of wearing her thousand dollar hearing aids.

Turns out ignoring is what used to work for me. Ever since I’ve been more aware and in tune with my emotions, it’s harder to let things go.

I realized this on day two.


“I’m going to get chicken, but not for everyone, just me and Belle,” my grandmother hollered loud enough for all of us to hear.

That was unnecessarily rude, I thought.

Then, Dwight walked over and whispered, “Your grandmother wants to know if you want some chicken?”

The only person I can control is myself, I thought.

“Grannie, I don’t feel comfortable getting chicken for just me and no one else.”

She didn’t care what I did, as long as everyone knew she wasn’t asking or buying chicken for anyone else.

And that, my friends, is where the heat rose, and spiral began.

We got the chicken and sides and headed back home, which is when my grandmother decided to stop at her friend’s house to “see what she wanted when she called.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Yeah. Why not?”

How selfish, I thought.

Was it a coincidence that I listened to a podcast focused on triggers when I returned to Florida? I don’t know, and I don’t want to intellectualize or woo-woo this. But according to mental health experts, a trigger can be a tap on the shoulder, the way someone speaks, or a familiar scent. Any of these and more can send someone back into time.

What I do know is by the time we returned to her house, I felt helpless and silenced. I was seventeen again, just like in 2014, just like in 1990. But I had two drumsticks, unseasoned green beans, and a mound of mashed potatoes to suffer through.

I felt alone. My aunt had driven to her hotel. My two cousins and their friend have a closeness that didn’t need my intrusion; they sat on the couch and giggled about something or another. Dwight was in the basement talking to my soon-to-be new cousin. The only place left to eat was at my grandmother’s table. She sat to my left; my ninety-eight-year-old great aunt sat to my right; and across from me, was my mother’s cousin. Though we are all grown, I felt like a child surrounded by adults, just like when I was growing up.

All I wanted was to finish my food. All my grandmother wanted was for me to outline my mundane online teaching job to her because, “I don’t know what you all are doing in this century.”

Even as I’m typing this, it seems a trivial thing. But it’s not. We were at an impasse. While I cannot tell her to put her hearing aids in or to please stop calling people stupid, in that moment, I could refuse to detail how I teach via computer, for no other reason than I didn’t want to.

The wrinkle between her brows furrowed, signaling her annoyance.

All I wanted was to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy. I wondered why we weren’t discussing the other actual exciting event: Her granddaughter was marrying the man of her dreams at her house. A conversation about how I grade assignments was insignificant. Finally, she let it go.

I cleaned the drumstick and excused myself.

“l’ll be back,” I said to everyone and to no one.

And I never returned.

Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part I)

“Can you imagine living here?” my husband asked, “or near here?”

He was asking me if I could ever think of how life would be if I’d lived near or around Covert, Michigan, the place I was sent when my father threw me out of the house. It was September 2020.

Three months prior, a birth chart reader told me I had been seeking higher consciousness, and apparently, there are certain places on earth, where I can be closer to achieving that goal. Florida is one of them. Chicago and Michigan, those places where I was born and raised, are not.

I knew this before the reader mentioned it. I could feel it.


In 2014, I visited my grandmother in Covert on a stop to Western Michigan, the university where I’d received my bachelor’s degree. My then job had paid for me to go anywhere in the country for professional development, so I chose my pre-professional roots. Maybe my methodology professor, the person who taught me how to teach, would impart some sage words on a journey that seemed foggy at best.

I couldn’t tell if I was holding my breath or if my breath shortened on its own, but something physically happened to me as I entered her driveway. I ignored it and slept soundly that evening.

The following morning, I awoke to soft mounds of white snow in the driveway. My grandmother and I shared breakfast and then we sat across from one another in the living room; she sat in the armchair and I on the couch.

“Where is the shovel?” I asked.

“It’s in the garage. I’ll go get it,” she said.

But she didn’t. We sat there for thirty minutes as a daytime show blared on the television, audible to anyone outside of the house, her hard-of-hearing status at its beginning stages.

“Grannie, are you going to get the shovel? I have to meet my professor,” I said.

“I’ll get it,” she said.

My grandmother is good at controlling a situation so that by the time it’s over, you don’t know if you gave away your power or if she took it.

I felt the heat rise from my abdomen, but I said nothing. Time travelled backwards. I was no longer forty-one. I was seventeen. I was alone and powerless. I should keep my mouth shut and wait for the shovel. An overwhelming sense of sadness overcame me. Breathing was hard, but yoga had taught me pranayama. I sat and practiced. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. I waited for her to liberate me from her house, whenever she saw fit.

Eventually, we walked to the garage together and she handed me the tool. It never dawned on me that I could’ve found it myself.

FB, February, 2014

The cold air, constant digging, and solitude served as therapy. I held onto the residual anger of being forty-five minutes late to my meeting and turned my fury into a cute social media post about perseverance, perhaps someone would be inspired by my resentment.  

I never processed what happened at her house. In fact, I ignored that it did.


Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Mental Health Matters: Learning to be Intimate

When I first met my husband, I didn’t want to hug or kiss in public, or private either…not really. Touching outside of sex was uncomfortable. I didn’t even want to hold hands. I remember when Dwight shared this detail with my aunt and uncle; they both replied with raised eyebrows and strange looks.

“I like to hold hands…in bed,” I clarified.

“In bed?” they both questioned in unison.

Their responses cued me that my behavior was out of the ordinary. I’ve since learned it wasn’t strange. It was just an intimacy issue.

At the root of intimacy is an idea of creating closeness. And according to every psychologist ever, how human beings create closeness is directly related to how they bond with their mother in infancy. Later, intimacy is reinforced by what is learned in the family: either too little or too much bonding can lead to intimacy problems in adulthood. Intimacy problems in adulthood can lead to unhealthy ways of creating intimacy, or in other words, codependency.

Whew.

Poor boundaries, people pleasing, and swooping in to help folks, even though they’d never asked each represented my desire for connection. If I let everyone in, did what others wanted, and superwomaned my way into others’ lives, then we’d be close, right?

Wrong.

I had to learn how to be intimate in appropriate ways.

My level of intimacy increased as I began to re-learn who I was and re-shape my identity according to my own likes and desires. Once I was less shameful about my background and proclivities and learned to love my whole self, I became comfortable with being me. These behaviors led to being intimate with myself, which helped me to naturally develop closeness with others. Hugging, kissing, and cuddling, which are a part of physical intimacy, were easier to offer and receive. However, other types of intimacy had to be strengthened.


Emotional Intimacy: After years of learned suppression, I had to figure out how to feel my way through experiences instead of ignoring them. First, I expressed different emotions with my husband. I stopped covering specific feelings, and instead moved through sadness or anger, by actually saying, “I’m sad because…” and then not remaining stuck in sorrow. Next, I practiced honoring my children’s feelings. For example, when one of my daughters didn’t do well on an exam, I asked her how she felt? I prompted her to attach words to her feelings to provide a safe space for being an emotional being.


Spiritual Intimacy: I’ve written about my non-Christian status on this blog once. It took a lot for me to share this belief. Living in the South (or America, in general) hasn’t made professing a non-Christian identity easy. But once I did, I was able to accept a part of me that I’d kept hidden for so long for fear of judgment. (For me, all roads lead back to identity work, apparently). Expressing my frustration with how the majority marginalizes non-Christians (in a safe space) served as a way for me to honor my own beliefs, which I’d hoped would lead to more relaxed conversations with friends and family. This is what spiritual intimacy is, and it’s an important part of every relationship. How can I connect with someone if we can’t discuss our beliefs in an open, respectful, and non-judgmental way?


Mental Intimacy: Because I like to engage in conversation, mental intimacy is something with which I thrive. Before Dwight and I married, we knew pretty much everything about one another. Questions like what is your deepest fear were commonplace during our first year of dating. Mental intimacy isn’t limited to a romantic relationship, though. In an effort to know others deeply, I ask my friends and family real questions. If they shirk answers or keep me at sarcasm-level responses, then I know our relationship isn’t going far. There is no judgment in this because we can’t always be as close as we want to be with others, plus boundaries are a thing. I’m simply saying that a non-authentic answer to an authentic question blocks connection and can stunt this type of intimacy.


Sooo, where are you in terms of creating close connections? Are you only intimate in romantic relationships? Only with friends and not family? Better at one of these than another? Let me know in the comments.

There are 4 Types of Intimacy does a great job of categorizing intimacy.

The Dance of Intimacy is good for a general understanding of intimacy.


Mental Health Matters: Releasing the Need to Help

Do you think you should wait for someone to ask for your help or do you think you should offer unsolicited help if it looks and sounds as if the person needs it?

Up until August, I thought the latter. If I knew specifics of a friend’s or family member’s situation, why wouldn’t I just help, without their needing to request support?

Two recent incidents have caused me to rethink this approach.


Incident #1: One of my stepmother’s grandsons was murdered. Someone he’d gone out with shot him eleven times, resulting in his death. Most of her family lives 1,100 miles away and, as most retirees, my stepmother is on a budget. She’d need to buy a plane ticket and due to COVID, she needed to stay in a hotel while visiting. As she shared her needs, I felt the urge to help.

Five years ago, I functioned in a similar way with her. When my father died, I paid for her plane ticket back to Chicago so she could have a second memorial for him, something she deemed necessary.

Two years ago, I sprang into action again. She’d called to tell me about her breast cancer diagnosis. They’d botched her surgery but wouldn’t listen to her painful pleas. Her oldest daughter and granddaughter weren’t in a space to help her. She wasn’t eating or sleeping well. Although she didn’t ask, I packed up my car and my youngest daughter and I drove five hours to take her grocery shopping, cook dinner, speak with authority to nurses, and be with her pre- and post-surgery.

She seemed to need my help, so I gave it, unsolicited.

This time, I just listened. And when she finished telling me about her plans, I said one thing, “Let me know if you need anything.”

She agreed, and I didn’t hear from her until weeks after she’d traveled to see her family, attended the funeral, and safely returned home. Guess she was okay without my assistance.


Incident #2: I have a sister friend, who quit her job about two years ago. I don’t know the specifics of how she makes money and it’s not my place to detail them here. Let’s just say she’s lived with the consequences of someone who quit her job without securing other employment. She also has an elementary-school-aged daughter.

Though she didn’t ask, I thought it fitting to “help” by sending school-supply money. I convinced Dwight to also contribute. I say convince because he didn’t understand why I or we would be giving her anything, especially unsolicited. “If someone needs your help,” he said, “they’ll ask.”

Imagine my surprise, when I saw my little sister friend living her best vacation life on social media. Subsequently, I did what I’ve learned to do…ask a question. I asked her if she needed the money we’d sent. Her answer was no.

Then, I reflected on how I ended up inserting myself in the first place.

I’d made judgments and assumptions leading up to sending money. I judged her current circumstance as negative and assumed she required my assistance. It’s never my place to judge another person’s situation, and it’s certainly not necessary for me to step in and “save” them from something I’ve deemed negative, whether they’re in distress or not.

In the codependent conversation, this is called caretaking or compulsive helping. Like other concepts, the difference between just helping and compulsive helping is the helper’s intent and need to be needed.

It feels good to be needed. I’ll admit I’ve liked being seen as the person whom others can depend on, even without asking. In the past, it meant I mattered. But as Dr. Lefever says, it’s arrogant; it presumes you know what’s better for someone more than they do. How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

kegarland

This revelation literally happened two months ago, so it’s a new way of being in relationship with people. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to do the following:

  • Listen without the intent to solve someone’s “problem.”
  • Wait for the person to ask for help.
  • Think about why I want to help; is it self-serving?

I’ll provide an update once it’s become a seamless part of how I function.

I know this one may be a little controversial, especially because we’ve been conditioned, encouraged even, to help one another, so let me know your opinion. Do you wait for someone to ask for help or do you offer unsolicited help?


3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

No More People Pleasing!

Mental Health Matters: No More People Pleasing!

My mother used to tell a story of when I was in pre-k. When she picked me up, the children played on the lawn, pretending to cross a bridge. I was the bridge. I lay flat on the grass, while my friends walked on me.

Even at four years old, I demonstrated the lengths I’d go through to be liked. My desire only increased as I aged.

By the time Dwight and I met, it was easy to switch out a short, honey-blonde hairstyle for longer, brown tresses he’d once commented he preferred. I traded my red lipstick for a natural brown color and stopped wearing bright green shorts for plain, denim ones. I faded into the background of life to ensure he’d always like me, ignoring the fact that he liked me when we met.

I’d mastered people pleasing beyond marriage.

In 2016, my director invited me to a party seventy-two miles away in the city where I work. I didn’t want to go for a few reasons:

  1. The party was Saturday and I received an invitation Wednesday.
  2. It was seventy-two miles away.
  3. I only knew the host.

I discussed it with a friend of mine, who insisted I should attend because of work politics, and…well, because I was invited.

To be clear, I had a good time. In fact, I wrote about it here. But why did I go? Although attending had nothing to do with work, I wanted to be seen as a good employee and a well-liked person. I also didn’t want to disappoint the host.

People pleasing ruled again.

That year, I also published The Unhappy Wife. The number of friends, family, and bloggers who read and wrote unsolicited reviews surprised me. Everyone engaged, except…my husband*.

By self-admission, Dwight reads one book a year. Additionally, he’s not fond of creative nonfiction. But I didn’t care. I obsessed over the idea of him reading and reviewing my book. I needed his opinion. I wouldn’t let it go until I knew what he thought.

I’d argue most of us would want our significant other to read our work. However, something more was happening here. I sought external validation in the form of praise, which is another form of people pleasing.

That was four years ago.

Developing self-worth and establishing boundaries have compelled me to stop living to please others. These three ideas work together.

Because I value myself, I no longer seek external validation. Though I’d like for my husband to read my words, I don’t ask anymore. If he reads this blog or latest publication, I’m excited when he mentions it, but I don’t need him to perform an act to make me feel good about myself.

Because I’d created time and personal boundaries, I knew when my director invited me to another party, I didn’t have to go. I didn’t need to spend three hours on the road and another few hours socializing with strangers to prove I was a good co-worker, associate, or friend. Another strategy I’ve mastered is not explaining my decision. As Oprah once emphasized, “No is a complete sentence.”

Because I’d worked on knowing myself and developing a sense of identity, I’ve returned to wearing red lipstick for no other reason than I like it. Bright colors have crept back into my wardrobe because I like them. And I wear my natural hair in a unique short precision cut because I like it. Each decision is a manifestation of my personality, which is now clear to me.

Here are other actions that have been helpful:

  • I take my time to answer when someone asks me to do something. Let me sleep on it is a useful phrase.
  • I prioritize my own needs over others’ feelings. If staying at a hotel is more relaxing than someone’s house, then I do that.
  • I make more decisions based on emotional, professional, or personal effects and fewer on how I will be perceived.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me. Others’ affection is a bonus. Releasing people-pleasing behaviors is a third practice that’s helped me to be less codependent.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me.

kegarland

Let me know if you’d add anything else that’s been helpful for you.

*Dwight read The Unhappy Wife about five months after publication and it taught me an invaluable lesson about external validation.

3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

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